A Christian Movie Review of – Ender’s Game!
It’s them or us. All or nothing. Do or die. Winner takes all. Go hard or go home. Take no prisoners. These are all phrases that are common in our culture. If I were to summarize Ender’s Game in one sentence it would be this: the film explores the intellectual meanings and moral implications of these common phrases to the fullest extent possible.
I could probably leave the review at that, but there are a few other things worth mentioning about this film.
First of all, it’s nice to see Harrison Ford in a sci-fi movie again, even if it doesn’t have the name Lucas attached to it or the word Runner in the title. However, Ender’s Game brings a much different world onto the screen than anything that Ford has been in before—a world that author Orson Scott Card created in the novel of the same name. Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) has translated that award-winning sci-fi classic onto the big screen for one of the first wide-releases of the holiday season.
In this epic film set in the Earth’s future, the human race is on high alert, feverishly preparing for war. Decades earlier, an advanced alien race called the Formics attacked our planet and killed tens of millions of innocent people. The International Fleet, led by the determined Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), has spent years recruiting youth and searching relentlessly—similar to Morpheus from the film Matrix—for the one savior who has the abilities to lead the International Fleet in battle and be the next Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), the hero who saved Earth when the Formics first invaded. When one of their recruits, Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), displays unusual tactical genius, they pin their hopes on him. However, as he endures the training required to become what they call an “empathetic killer,” Ender begins to struggle with his role, especially as he sees how talented a killer he really is.
The strength of this movie is its acting. If you’ve seen the Martin Scorsese Oscar-winning masterpiece Hugo, then you’ve already seen veteran thespian Ben Kingsley and newcomer boy actor Asa Butterfield co-star in a film together. Asa was the steely blue-eyed boy thief who roamed the clockworks of a train station in Hugo, and he turns in another superb performance in a starring role with Ender’s Game. Although Kingsley is not as present in this film, he and Harrison Ford add a gravitas to the screen that you will not often see. Throw in Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)—one of best young actresses in Hollywood, in my opinion—and you’ve got riveting performances from beginning to end.
Of course, fans of the book will want to know how faithful the movie is to the original plot. One of the producers, Roberto Orci, vowed to be as faithful to the novel as possible, and the consensus is that he succeeded, for the most part. However, I dislike the rush to compare books with films when one mode is a quiet internal experience that unfolds slowly over hours, days, and even weeks, while the other is an ear-shattering external event that is over in 90 minutes. A film director can only do so much.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the book, it’s impossible to deny that this movie is a deep thinker. It approaches Christopher Nolan territory, but stops short of his complicated intellectual depths to remain accessible to a younger teenage audience, probably the same demographic targeted with the Hunger Games franchise, which came from a Young Adult novel. For this reason, the foreshadowing is a little hint-heavy and any veteran moviegoer will see what’s coming. I have never read the novel, yet I could see where the script was headed, generally. This was a little disappointing because I like being surprised. But the wonderful visual effects, great screenwriting, and superb acting made it a great thrill ride anyways. And, to be fair, there were a couple plot twists that I didn’t see coming that kept me on the edge of my seat. Overall, it was an enjoyable film to watch.
Ender’s Game is rated PG-13 for its frightening scenes. And, yeah, they really are scary, but not in a graphic, gory way. A video game depicts a very scary looking giant who becomes the recipient of a disturbing, stomach-turning act of aggression. There is an intense surgical scene that made me squeamish and a little grossed out, and although the film’s violence is not bloody, it is mature and slightly disturbing. It involves a few bully situations. If your kid has any sensitivity to that topic because they’ve been bullied, then be aware that this movie shows some intense scenes of bullying. In one particular scene, the violence is psychologically intense and emotionally disturbing: we see a kid hit his head so hard that he immediately lapses into a twitching vegetative state. At that moment, the audience does not know if they’re looking at a person in the throes of death or simply in a coma. There is no comedic, slapstick tone. The moment feels very real as if you had witnessed it on the street.
It’s not a good movie for younger viewers. I’d say the rating’s recommended age limit of 13 years old is fairly accurate for this film. Besides the intense stuff mentioned above, there is some mild language—very little compared to most PG-13 films—and one off-color, very out-of-left-field “your mama” joke that implied that a character was born out-of-wedlock. There are no amorous scenes of any kind or any suggestive visuals.
I should also note that the author of the book, Orson Scott Card, is Mormon. I walked into the viewing on the alert for any doctrinal overtones from the Mormon Church. I detected none. It’s purely a sci-fi movie with no obvious agendas attached to it. If it were some kind of propaganda film, there is no way that a liberal actor like Harrison Ford would have attached himself to the project.
Speaking of liberal politics, the author became a target for the Left when he openly expressed disagreement about legalizing gay marriage. This is not surprising, considering that most Mormons are conservative. This film’s release has re-lit this lightning rod and many gay rights groups have publically targeted him and called for boycotts. However, the film has absolutely nothing to do with contemporary politics. The screenplay was not written by Card, and there isn’t the slightest trace of any political commentary on-screen.
If you’re 13 years or older and you’re in the mood for a thrilling, high-quality sci-fi movie with the best acting that money can buy, Ender’s Game fits the bill. Although it does not have overt religious or political agendas attached to it, it does ask some very thought-provoking questions that will linger in your mind long after the credits have rolled. A viewing of this film followed by facilitated discussion would make a great ministry event, especially if you explored the Bible’s views about self-preservation and loving one’s enemies.